She knocked, then stuck her head into the dorm room and asked, “Is everybody decent?”
Her mother and father followed her into the room. I assumed it was her father’s presence that made the question necessary. I chatted with her parents off and on as they toted in several loads. With all the luggage, blankets and pillows deposited, the parents turned to head home. “Call us if she gives you any trouble” her father said to us as they slipped out. They clearly thought I was the dorm mother.
I had registered to take a graduate creative writing class at the Texas Tech campus in Junction, Texas. Just the thought of dorm life, cafeteria dining and long walks across campus almost deterred me. I had just retired from 29 years of teaching both at the junior high level and most recently for the local community college. With work behind me, I wanted to pursue my passion. I wanted to write.
The young blond left and moments later we heard another knock. “Is everybody decent?” I wondered what her father had forgotten, but this time a young male walked in behind the blond. His tall, slim frame was similar to hers. His hair was long, but nowhere near the length of her long curls. They were holding hands, and the giddiness of fresh love was evident. As the lovers, Todd and Heather, sat down on her bed together, I wondered if I was going to experience my first true co-ed dormitory.
I mused back some thirty plus years trying to recall my college dorm days. When I first attended Texas Tech in Lubbock, my dorm was labeled co-ed, but all it meant was that we shared a lobby and the dining hall with the guys who lived in a completely separate building. Males certainly were not allowed into our building, let alone our rooms.
The lovers disappeared again, and my other roomies started arriving. The first was a perky, red-haired art teacher from Round Rock, not too far from Austin where I live. “I put my stuff here on this bed. Is that ok? “ Sharon claimed the bed at the foot of mine so that our toes pointed toward each other when we were in bed. If we sat up in bed to study, we had to make a conscious effort not to stare at each other. Our toes were separated by a metal wardrobe cabinet with pre-fab plastic raised panels. The opening and closing of the closet doors reminded me of a hall full of noisy eighth graders slamming their lockers during passing period.
The middle-age brunette from Houston announced “I hope I don’t stink you all out of here. I‘m taking James’ ceramics class, and I know we’ll sweat a lot.” Beth looked strong enough to throw clay but still delicate enough to carve the most intricate designs. “Do any of you drink beer? I have an ice chest of cold ones here.” I knew I’d met a friend.
Catherine had a modest demeanor and a soft voice. Her brown straight hair was clipped back. I pegged her for a crafts class, but she told us, “I can sling clay with the best of them.” The bright turquoise, orange, and yellow striped sheets contrasted with what I expected. I had a desire to stop her as she headed toward that bed. Surely that brightly colored one couldn’t be hers. It didn’t fit my first impression of her. Maybe there was a wild child lurking beneath this charming lady’s soft exterior.
I looked at my own bed to see what it said about me: a therapeutic pillow, a back support and a hospital quilt. I decided not to go there.
The four of us were middle to upper-middle age. It seemed as if the young co-ed had four dorm mothers now.
I took my night meds. Beth and I had a beer. We four senior roommates compared our back pain, childbirth experiences, and memories of the 60’s.
Beth, who had just turned 54, told about a group of guys who flashed their college class back in ’71. The guys wore only full face masks when they threw open their coats, but her friend still recognized one of them. With their faces covered, we could only speculate what she’d recognized.
Sharon told us about her “alcoholic, bed-wetting sonofabitch” ex-husband.
Heather, the lover, was noticeably absent.
None of us realized that the door between the bedroom and the bathroom would slam shut unless we consciously made an effort to soften the blow. That first night the door slammed at least once every hour, usually more often.
Heather had been in and out laughing and slamming and laughing louder and slamming louder as the night wore on. Most of us roused from our sleep each time the door slammed. Catherine never stirred. I worried that perhaps we should check on her, worried that she might be dead. How could anyone sleep though all this? I finally drifted back to sleep but was immediately haunted by an unsettling dream where skulls were scattered around on my bed. It wasn’t until the next evening that my new friends told me that I was screaming during the night. They said it wasn’t a blood-curdling scream, but more of a Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost scream.
“Oh, my gosh. I am so sorry.” I apologized. Here I was fussing about the Heather making so much noise, and I was part of the problem. Sharon reassured me that my screams were nothing compared to all the other activity.
Beth started off tired, then became miffed, and finally by morning’s first light, she was furious.
The next day she and Sharon canvassed Junction for earplugs. I checked to see that I had an ample supply of my Sleepy Time tea. My two roommates returned from their quest for the most effective earplugs Junction had to offer. Their collection included the orange squishy ones that hunters use, a quarter-size ball of clear, silly-putty type wax that molds to the person’s inner and outer ear and finally earplugs that resembled a screw. These were the most interesting. They twisted into the ear then expanded like a molly bolt. The screw-shaped plugs were particularly unique because they had a decorative cord that connected the two earplugs. The cord reminded me of the chain that the old-fashioned school marm used to hold her glasses around her neck. I had visions of it wrapping around Sharon’s neck as she tossed and turned.
The next day school officials announced, begged, and cajoled students to please be respectful of others trying to sleep at night. Obviously, other dorm members had shared our pain. We dorm buddies all attended our classes during the day but pulled our chairs together at night for some group merriment or therapy, depending on what was needed.
This time Sharon had a plastic cup of wine.
The Catherine pulled out her bottle of Shiner Bock and squeezed a lime into the bottle….another little surprise. But it was when she announced to the group that pulling clay for handles was a very erotic experience, I knew I’d misjudged her. She was a wild child in disguise.
We had to wrap the beer bottles in plastic to make sure the cleaning crew didn’t report us.
I pulled up a black chair and noticed the white outline of a butt on the chair. I stared a minute.
“Oh, I’ll take that chair,” said the Beth. “It already has ceramic clay dust on it.” Sure enough, we saw a trail of white dust everywhere she had been. Even her shoes were gray rather than black. Before she sat down, she asked the rest of us, “Have any of you gotten chiggers? I just finished putting on clean sheets. I think I got them from my bed.”
The rest of us eyed our own bunks. I squirmed and itched at the mere thought of having such strange little bedfellows.
“What is a chigger?” asked one of the group, obviously not from Texas. We all turned and stared, finding it hard to believe that someone existed that had not yet met a chigger.
Beth took that question. “They are God-awful little bugs that get into tight places and itch like crazy. I got them all around the underwire of my bra. See.” She showed us. “They must have gotten me around my panty line also. I scratch my crotch so much, I look like a baseball player.”
“By the way,” Beth continued “have any of you noticed that the toilet lids in our two bathroom stalls are occasionally left up?”
I had noticed but I assumed the cleaning crew had just done their thing. I shared this assumption with the group.
“Well, I don’t think so.” Beth again.” I think one or more of the guys in the dorm across the hall is responsible. Frankly, I think it’s her boyfriend.” She pointed to the bed of Heather, the young lover.
Catherine piped in. “I sure was surprised to find him in here when I came in from my shower wearing just a t-shirt and my panties.”
The group of four exploded, all talking at once.
“I don’t like him being in here either.”
“We need our privacy.”
“Where are we supposed to change?”
“I don’t care what they do, but they don’t have to do it in here.”
We all shared the discomfort but were hesitant to actually confront the young lovers. The next afternoon I was in the toilet stall with the door closed. The door wasn’t locked because no lock exists. The sink is very close to the toilet, so I wasn’t surprised to hear a female voice.
But I was surprised when I heard a male voice….on the girl’s side of the dorm.
It was Todd and they didn’t know I was there. I held my breath and lifted my feet. I stayed like this long enough for my legs to get uncomfortable. The couple chattered, and I started wondering how I was going to make my escape.
The next voice I heard was Beth. “Now let me see. I must have forgotten. Which side is the girl’s side and which side is the boy’s side?” I strained to make sure I could hear the response.
The male lover said, “Ok, this is the girl’s side.” My legs ached so I sat with them crisscrossed on the toilet seat.
“And you would be a boy, is that right?” asked Beth, not bothering to disguise the sarcasm.
“Yeah, but I’m just standing here by the sink.” I heard water running. Shoot, now I couldn’t hear as well. Someone turn off the water.
Beth’s voice was loud enough that I heard her over the running water. “Look, I don’t care what you two do, but I do care where you do it. The rest of us are not comfortable having males around when we’re changing clothes and using the bathroom. We’d just like a little privacy.”
I heard footsteps of someone leaving. Just as I started to sneak out of the stall, I heard the female lover say, “Hey, I’m really sorry. I understand how you feel. We’ve just started dating, and we don’t have a chance for much privacy either. But we will stay away from the dorm from now on.”
“Thanks for understanding,” said Beth. I definitely heard them both walk away this time. I washed my hands and made a dash for my car. I had to make a beer run. We were going to have plenty to discuss tonight.
© By Ava (firstname.lastname@example.org)